View Full Version : The Myth of Talent

07-10-2011, 02:07 PM
I think this has been linked to before but I am going to start a thread just for this topic.

It is from Craig Tanner's website. He has a podcast as well as a written article on this. Right here (http://www.tmelive.com/index.php/articles/view/28/24.html)

It is well worth the about thirty minutes it takes to listen to. What he is really saying is that talent rather being an innate aptitude that one is born with it is more a lot of hard work, learning, application of what is learned and practice, practice, practice.

So whether it is photography you aspire to or something other you can achieve your goals.

A couple of other links from his article:


Speaking of talent - here is a link from Joe McNally's most recent blog post.


A very powerful piece of writing that is made even more poignant by comments from the readers particularily two who were young kids at the time, both influenced by Joe's work to follow their later professions. Joe is a well known photographer who is revered by other photographers, a photographer's photographer, but his stories are self deprecating, humourous and very informative in explaining his often seat of the pants approach to these big projects.

Wicked Dark
07-10-2011, 02:57 PM
I read that a while ago and disagree. Practice will give you good technique, but if you can't spot a good photograph to begin with, all the technique in the world won't help you.

07-10-2011, 03:59 PM
I think experience and a desire to do it will teach you to "see". Foremost is the desire and secondly the ability to push yourself to go beyond the "safety zone" so to speak.

For instance, the Club just recently acquired this watercolour painting by Frederick M. Bell-Smith, dated 1897. It is beautifully constructed with near, middle and background points of interest. The mountains form a dominant triangle and the rapids with the logs lead your eye into the painting. The boulders on either side of the rapids help anchor the picture. All in all it is classically rendered. If I had taken a photo like this, I would be quite proud of myself.


Next, a page of photographs by well-known photographer, Darwin Wigget. He particularly specializes in in mountain landscapes. Each of his photographs has typical foreground interest that anchors the photo and leads your eye into the photo, dominant triangular shapes. Rule of thirds is practiced in most of these. And fabulous lighting and colour. All of these techniques can be studied and learned after which the onus is on the particular artist to practice and implement them.


My point in comparing the two mediums from, one predating the other by many decades, is to show learned technique can be applied to create stunning art. I hope that makes some sense. :)

07-10-2011, 06:23 PM
I'm with Wicked.

Talent or technician.

I know people in both camps. I am in the latter group.

07-12-2011, 09:32 AM
Practice, practice, practice until the technique becomes innate = talent. :)

Wicked Dark
07-12-2011, 09:44 AM
I don't agree. There's an element of natural affinity in real talent that can't be faked with technicality. There's vision and execution that can come quickly to a person who has no experience at all. It happens in photography with many newbies and sometimes in other arts. Oh yeah, we all want to level the playing fields now and make it seem like everything is attainable to everyone. It's the 'go for the tie' syndrome that does nothing to reward actual ability. Oh let's all be special. When that happens, no one is. Practice builds good habits and skills, but it will never give someone the innate ability to do something well without that practice. Some can, some can't in all things. How else explain those individuals who rise to the top of a given proclivity without experience or years of practice? Talent.

07-12-2011, 11:16 AM
I too have to disagree. The convenient redefining of the word talent doesn't make it so.

Talent - "The natural endowments of a person" or "A characteristic feature, aptitude or disposition of a person or animal". Similarly, "aptitude, bent, endowment, faculty, flair, genius, head, knack, gift".

Skill – “The ability to use ones knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance”, “dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks”, “a learned power of doing something competently; a developed aptitude or ability”.

Education and practice in any endeavour can certainly develop a high degree of comprehension and ability. Not knowing someone’s background could easily misconstrue a history of hard work for talent but by definition, skill is not talent. I've worked a long time at developing my skill at photography and can comfortably say I know more than a majority of the many photographers I know. I'm proud of that but I'd trade most of it away for the eye of a couple I know.

Perhaps Mr. Tanner is trying to fool himself.

07-12-2011, 12:05 PM
Some people have a natural affinity to photography as others do in other forms or art. Most can be good technical photographers but in my opinion very few can be artistic photographers. Also my opinion of Joe Mcnally is not very high and that is being very kind, again just my opinion. Some people can develop the talent with time and practice but for many photographers I like it seems to be a more natural ability.

07-12-2011, 01:18 PM
Practice will give you good technique, but if you can't spot a good photograph to begin with, all the technique in the world won't help you.
-1 LOL. I disagree big time.

I'm in the Jas camp on this one - If you can't spot a good photograph to begin with, practice and soon you'll be able to. :)

Wicked Dark
07-12-2011, 01:24 PM
so you don't believe people are naturally good at stuff?

07-12-2011, 01:29 PM
Course I do.
But I also believe that people that might not be naturally talented can become talented through hard work and practice.
These people imo, represent the vast majority of people on our planet; certainly many of them have risen to the top of their games (or not - because whose to say that that is even truly important) through hard work and practice alone.
Surely talent can be honed through practice, no?

Wicked Dark
07-12-2011, 01:31 PM
nah, that's not talent. that's changing the meaning of the word as someone else already said. talent is innate by its very definition.

07-12-2011, 01:33 PM
So we agree to disagree then; it's just one of those things - sall good :)

Wicked Dark
07-12-2011, 05:28 PM
I suppose, but the perverting of language really bugs me. Proficiency is the word that people want, but it's not good enough and so they diminish talent so it's basically meaningless. It's like hero. No one knows what it means anymore and therefore is meaningless.

07-12-2011, 05:48 PM
-1 LOL. I disagree big time.

I'm in the Jas camp on this one - If you can't spot a good photograph to begin with, practice and soon you'll be able to. :)

I am in the Wicked camp on this one. Marko on this one sorry to say I think you are off the mark. It is OK I still like ya even if you are wrong lmaoooooo ........

07-12-2011, 07:05 PM
Well, everyone else has an opinion so I'll add in my :twocents: as well! :) It all goes back to nature/nurture and while I wholeheartedly agree that nature can give someone a head start and keep them there, nurture can also breathe life into someone to make them very good at something and while they may get better than many other people I ultimately do not believe it can ever really equal raw talent that's been nurtured in the same way. Basically, on even ground, someone with talent will always come out in front.

07-12-2011, 07:46 PM
I love this forum - one can even get philosophy.

07-13-2011, 12:33 AM
I never mind when people disagree w/me ...
Trust me I know the difference between Da Vinci and everyone else....but everyone else can still learn to be great....Yes Da Vinci pulls out the magic sleeper hold and normally crushes his opponents in wrestling, but the other wrestlers still get their chance to fight Da Vinci if they practice hard enough....and whose to say who will win on any given Sunday.
Even the Masters produce less than great work once in a while.

Mad Aussie
07-13-2011, 02:20 AM
I also am in the Wicked Dark camp on this one as far as the general statement is concerned.
I've seen a lot of people take up photography and some learn very quickly and show a good understanding right off. Without any teaching they show good composition etc.

However, that 'talent' for photography certainly then needs loads of education and, as JAS put it, practice, practice, practice.

Another however, however, is that I do believe someone who does not show initial 'talent' can become as good as most with time, education and the 3 practices.
So I believe a natural ability/talent is real and helpful but not a prerequisite to being a good photographer.

Wicked Dark
07-13-2011, 07:39 AM
Nope it isn't MA, but it is a requirement to be a great one.

Mad Aussie
07-13-2011, 07:45 AM
Nope it isn't MA, but it is a requirement to be a great one.
Quite possibly ... depending on what you call 'great' ;)

07-13-2011, 11:39 AM
Great thread. I can't help but think how you have people that train in dance all their lives, technically sound. But there are those that have a special "thing" that shines when they dance..that makes them that llittle bit better than the others. Is that possible to see that in photography? Do some people just have that lil "thing" that makes their photography better or is it just skill?

Wicked Dark
07-13-2011, 11:57 AM
Yup, that's it kat. The difference. You see it in sports, music, theater, traditional arts...everywhere. I worked with some sales people that were just naturally great at it; could sell anything. Me? I was proficient, I wasn't talented. Some people just are naturally good at stuff. And no re-assigning meaning to a word will make it go away. Working hard, becoming proficient and being good at something is a different thing to me. If you were really that good, you wouldn't have to practice so hard. Photography is a tough one to judge because it relies so heavily on technology, but I think it applies. You just have to look at a lot of stuff to realize it.

07-13-2011, 01:36 PM
Interesting thread. You're talking about what I call a good 'eye' :)

Personally I think a person does need to start with an 'eye' for a photo, and that some people have a better eye than other people (i.e. it is a talent), but practice and study are needed to refine that embryonic eye into the eye of a good photographer. I don't believe there is any such thing as a 'natural' great photographer.

That's not to say people with a lesser eye can't take good photos, I just think they don't find it as easy to spot a good photo and consequently take fewer good photos.

I don't believe that anyone has no 'eye' at all.

PS I think Joe McNally is a fantastic photographer. And he's a great writer as well.

Ernst-Ulrich Schafer
07-13-2011, 02:54 PM
Great thread guys.

I do think there are those that just have a natural talent for whatever medium that sparks a passion for them. However we all know there are not many out there that have this sort of gift.

I myself never ever considered myself as an artist, nor did I ever think we could become an artist with a camera. I did have something in me though when I was 19 and playing Army in Vietnam, a friend handed me his old used camera, WOW, wouldn't it be great to be a photographer. I'm closing in on 40 years of wanting to be that photographer and the passion I have for it is the greatest it's ever been. I have studied, learned and done alot of practice and I was out practicing some more just yesterday. I think it's that passion that keeps showing up in my images that does tell me I've become an artist.

On another note, there are those that can learn all the techique and craft and yet when they hit a certain point they don't seem to grow anylonger. I was viewing some BW images the other day at a Gallery, the photographer had great darkroom skills, great craft, but the images didn't excite me. Same old stuff, just a different name. Or how about the Portrait Photographer that learns all the rules and he just lives by those rules and nothing more. BORING!!!

07-13-2011, 03:14 PM
I beleive some people have a "natural talent" in certain things in life. Take two people , twins for instance. One having that " natural talent" will come out ahead and be better at it than the other one even though they studied the same material. And on the topic of Joe McNally..... Joe is a good photographer( technically)he has a vision of what he wants to do but he is a great salesman. He has been in the right places at the right times and has aligned himself with friends within the industry giving him opportunities that the rest of us have to fight for. He therefor has made a " brand name" in the market place. He like many photographers don't just go out and snap a photo. He researches , scopes out vantage points and has a clear message from the publisher of what they want well in advance of picking up a camera. And sometimes some of us are in the right place at the right time.
For myself when shooting a wildlife subject , I have read up on habitats and characteristics of my subject, scoped out locations and spent hours upon hours waiting for that perfect shot. Other days I'm out for 15 minutes and the shot came to me easily.